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Court refuses to order return of Saudi child

The High Court has refused to order the return of a Saudi child brought to England by his mother.

In AR v AS, the boy had been born in the Middle Eastern nation in 2007. He continued to live there until August this year, when his mother kept his mother kept him with her at the end of what had been intended as a family holiday in London. She announced suddenly that she intended to separate from the father and would not be returning to Saudi Arabia. Instead she wished to claim asylum in the UK, saying she had been harshly mistreated by both her husband’s and her own family.

The father has also remained in London since that time and has seen his son in supervised circumstances on a few occasions. He does not know where mother and child are living.

Sitting in the High Court of Justice, Judge Sir Peter Singer explained the mother’s allegations:

“…include allegations of serious and sustained sexual and physical violence by the father and pressure from her own family to conform with their concepts of duty and honour exerted upon her by emotional pressure and blackmail including threats of violence and death and, on one occasion, actual serious violence.”

The boy’s parents were first cousins and Saudi nationals who have spent most of their lives in the country.

Sir Peter described the family as “firmly steeped in Saudi Arabian culture and traditions.” Such cultural traditions included Sharia law.

The youngster, referred to as ‘C’, had clearly ‘habitually resident’ (resident for legal purposes) in Saudi Arabia prior to his parents’ separation, the Judge continued.

In many many ways his life and mode of upbringing within an affluent family in Jeddah are a world apart from the disrupted and straitened circumstances in which he has lived as a child of an asylum seeker with all the restrictions which that status brings.”

The father applied for C to be made a ward of court, but the focus of the proceedings later shifted onto the question of whether or not the courts should order C’s return to his father.

C would ideally prefer to live with his mother in Saudi Arabia, Sir Peter noted, but she insisted that she would not be returning:

The Judge also referred to reports of domestic violence between the parents.

“It is, however, in my view, irrefutable … that [C] has been exposed to and upset and no doubt frightened by a number of incidents of domestic violence and abusive behaviour between his parents and that he retains some recollection of some of those events.”

Nevertheless,it was clear that father and son still had a “valuable bond”. Despite this, however, Sir Peter concluded that it would not be in the boy’s best interests to be sent back to Jeddah. He noted the “desperation” displayed by the father in an elaborate offer to house his estranged wife in a secret location in Saudi Arabia where he could visit his son. He would provide her with financial support and the necessities of life, and even to find her a job, all the while while concealing her presence in the country from her family.

The wife’s very conservative family had been gravely offended by her actions, the Judge continued. Her brothers had sent her messages containing “unusually strong invective” and “vulgarity”.

He concluded:

“… the mother if she returned to Saudi Arabia would be in my view permanently and reasonably anxious lest the father’s bona fides as expressed might be overtaken by a change of mind, and what continuing degree of risk of harm (including the risk of so-called honour-based violence or murder there might be from her own family) she might need to accept and tolerate, whether she was married or single, to their knowledge or not.”

The full judgement is available here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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